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Riding in the rain


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I was driving thru New Brunswick (Canada) this afternoon and was 'hit' by a sudden downpour. What is the safest thing to do when this occurs when riding a bike?

1- Ride in the middle of the lane (oil accumulation from cagers) ?


2- Ride in the right or left part of the lane(typically lower due to heavy truck traffic and filled with water) ?


Million Dollar Question:

Do motorcycles 'aquaplane' in water at speed?

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Be especially cautious in the first few minutes after it starts raining. Oil on the road will be wet and very slippery.


Ride in the wheel tracks to avoid the worst of the oil.


Yes, a motorcycle will hydroplane, but it's not nearly as common as it is in cars. Last year, I did a track day that included one session in the rain...and I mean HARD, POURING rain. I was riding my CBR600RR which is light and has a wide rear tire. By the end of the session, there were some very deep puddles on the back straight, and SOMETIMES when I hit them at speed (~110mph), the bike would hydroplane a little bit. It wasn't a problem at all at lower speeds. I've never hydroplaned the RT despite riding in some pretty nasty wet weather.


In a nutshell, I don't worry about hydoplaning. I worry about wet oil in the road, idiot drivers who don't know how to drive, and (if it is really pouring and water is pooling in low spots) deep potholes that are obscured by puddles.

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I rode for about an hour last Sunday in pouring rain. Like when it is dry, I always prefer to ride in the "fast" or #1 lane of a freeway or multi-lane highway. I always ride in the left wheel position and never ride in the oil stripe unless changing lanes. I ride in the right wheel position when traffic slows in preparation for lane splitting.

Riding in the #1 lane means any potential hazards only come at you from the right. Faster traffic normally occupies the #1 lane and it allows me to slowly overtake traffic rather than the more dangerous otion of allowing traffic to overtake you.

Due to the small contact patch/high weight loading of a motorcycle tire against the pavement, I don't think hydroplaning is much of a problem. I rode at a steady 70 mph with a worn 10,000 mi front tire and I didn't feel anything unusual.

More of concern in the rain for me is the inability to see well.

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Stay out of the center of the lane. As Russell says, especially during the first half hour or so. That's where all the leaking stuff from cages and trucks goes... right in the middle.


Increase your distance from vehicles in front of you, not necessarily because of stopping distance increases, but because of reduced road hazard visibility. Cars, and especially large trucks reduce your ability to see what's on the road due to the rooster tails they produce. I've had to dodge some obstacles in the rain that I would easily have seen way before they were any kind of concern had it been dry.


Bikes "stick" in the rain much better than you'd think, but each bike / tire setup is different and it takes a while to slowly build confidence in the rain on twisty roads. Watch for "stuff" being washed "onto" the roadway in really heavy rain in rural areas.


Night time riding in the rain brings on another whole set of visibility challenges, and I'll generally pack it in before dark unless I'm out in the boonies w/ no traffic.


Last thought, freeway off / on ramps become slip-n-slides in "first rains" after even only a few days of "no rain."

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To elaborate on Russell's point, I would be most worried about oil, but on a heavy truck route in the north, I would also not be surprised to see some pretty big potholes in the tire tracks. If it were me, I'd exit that road as soon as practical and take an alternate route.

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One of the motorcycling hazards of the north is the grinding down of the wheel tracks by studded winter tires. As a result, rain water can pool quite deeply in some of these and cause a problem, particularly transitioning on a good line through curves. For this reason, I try to pay attention to the remaining tread depth and replace tires more aggressively in Alaska than I do on the SoCal bike. There is no doubt in my mind that flirting with the limits of tread wear causes instability when riding in the rain at preferred speeds up here.

I disagree with the injunction against riding in the center of the lane in the rain. For the reasons mentioned above, I often ride in the center lane, particularly around curves and find traction as good as or better than in the wheel groves splashing through the water. I believe the only real problem with center of lane traction is in areas where traffic is stopped, as at lights or toll booths, gas pumps etc. In these places I'll usually put the bike in the center of the lane (when raining) so that my foot is on non slick surface. Just take it easy stopping and going on this surface.

I think it's great fun to ride in the rain, and what has been compromised in visual acuity is more than compensated for by the olfactory enhancements.

Take care,


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Never had a motorcycle hydroplane, and I've ridden for decades and been in extremely heavy downpours. I do take precautions in heavy rain, slowing down for one. With that said, I do share your concerns on the roads you describe.


On roads that are pounded into two ruts, I test the hump in the middle, and test the depressions where the water stands. Often I have found the hump better, but this is no set rule. I stay flexible in my riding choices.


When the depressions have slicker tar like coatings, I generally stay out of them in the rain. However, I often find myself riding in and out of the hump/depressions during rain, changing back and forth based on road surface and rain accumulation.

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